Deep in the typical African wild in Serengeti and Maasai Mara savanna vegetation areas, the wildebeest migration takes place every year. This is the movement of over 300,000 zebras, 400, 000 Thompson’s gazelles, 12,000 elands, Grant’s gazelle, impalas in search for fresh grazing and water drinking areas.
The great migration starts from Tanzania across to Kenya and back to Tanzania. The total migrating number is estimated around 1.7 million wildebeest. The migration is circular and continuous every year but it some how largely depends on the seasons and rainfall patterns. The wildebeest in the course of their journey from Serengeti to Maasai Mara cover a distance approximate to 1,800 miles across the Mara River.
Much as wildebeest migrates in search of new grazing lands and water drinking places, they become hunted by the African predators in the area. The wildebeest migration is very risky to these herbivores because they go through the habitants of major predators that hunt them down like the crocodiles in the Mara river, leopards, cheetahs, the lions (Maasai Mara has the largest lion population in the world), hyenas and many other predators. All these predators eagerly wait for the migrating herbivores with great hunting anticipations.
The wildebeest migration area is most times called the Serengeti ecosystem with area coverage of 40,000 square kilometers. Because of the annual migration in the area, there are permanent and dominant migration routes which the wildebeest use. These routes mainly include areas of the Ngorongoro conservation area, the Serengeti national park and the areas adjacent to Maswa game reserve to the Maasai Mara national park in the north.
The wildebeest migration is an endless movement by the herbivores dominated by life and death. This is because in the course of the journey when the herbivores get what to eat, they can survive for long if they are not eaten by the predators. Some animals even give birth in the migration process. Life here ends after being eaten by the predators.
The migration is mainly triggered by the birth of many wildebeest calves on the short grass in the Serengeti especially between January and February. The newly born calves are estimated to be between 300,000 to 40,000 within two to three weeks. Such massive calf production provides a lot of food for the predators because they easily attack the calves especially those that have been separated from their mothers in the course of the wildebeest migration.
Around March, the short grasses in Serengeti begin to dry because of the large and increasing numbers of wildebeest feasting on them. These forces the wildebeest to move towards areas they expect to have more and fresher pastures. They do this by following the rains, water areas and new grass in the western direction towards Lake Masek, Ndutu and Lagarja with the greater need of getting drinking water. When the rainy season sets in, the wildebeest heads to the north western parts in the hilly woodlands towards Lake Victoria.
From the western parts of the Serengeti, the wildebeest now crosses over to Maasai Mara in Kenya across the Mara River a home to giant crocodiles. Sometimes the river may even over flood because of the heavy rains making it hard for the wildebeest to cross. During this time, most young ones are separated from their mothers and remain isolated thus giving the predators a chance to attack. The wildebeest however also have some reasoning capacity because before they cross river Mara, they first gather around the river banks and when the numbers increase, they choose to use a specific part of a river they suspect to have less or no crocodiles.
When the wildebeest gets to the Maasai Mara side, they start feeding extensively on the evenly distributed green pastures while being on a constant move- a strategy to keep away from the predators which are most times unable to keep following the moving herds of wildebeest. This is because most predators in Maasai Mara have territories they can’t just abandon to intrude in other predators territories. The strong lioness hunters also some times have young ones and can’t therefore move so far away from them.
Around October, the rainy season starts again in the Serengeti giving way to growth of fresh grasses and water filling of the seasonal lakes, water holes and swamps which makes the wildebeest to head back to the south using the eastern woodlands of the area. Once they reach the open plains, they scatter again and start enjoying the fresh grasses in the area giving way for the migration cycle to begin again.
All tourists interested in being part of the wildebeest migration can visit the area in June, July, early august and late January to February is the best time to view wildebeest calving. The wildebeest migration takes place in no other place in the world but east Africa making it among the top wonders of the wild in Kenya, Tanzania and the world at large; therefore if you are planning an African and specifically a Kenyan or Tanzanian tour/safari, the Serengeti and Maasai Mara should be among your first choices and you should therefore be well prepared to view the great migration in a typical African wild and can have an unforgettable experience one can ever have.